Avacyn Restored: Death’s Encroach Review (Part 2 of 2)
Having given both decks the once-over, we’re ready to move on to the playtesting stage. For our opener, I’ll be piloting the mono-Black Death’s Encroach, while Jimi will be on the other side of the table with the White/Blue Humanity’s Vengeance. We all know how the story ends in Innistrad, but can I write a different ending on the battlefield?
I’m on the play for our first game, leading with a Swamp but no follow-on. Jimi plays a Nephalia Smuggler from her Island and passes. I’m right behind, though, as I next add a Crypt Creeper to the board, but when Jimi summons a Wingcrafter and soulbonds it to her Smuggler, it’s able to fly across the red zone for first blood.
Now turn 3, I send my Creeper in on the counterattack, then hit at Jimi’s spindown life counter a second time when I summon Geralf’s Messenger. At 16 life, Jimi’s happy to trade blows as she sends both the Smuggler and Wingcrafter in for 2 more damage, then reestablishes a defense with a Porcelain Legionnaire. Back to me, I simply Doom Blade the obstacle, then turm both Zombies sideways for 5. Jimi’s had about enough of the Messenger, though- she exiles it next turn with Oblivion Ring before firing in again in the sky for 2.
I drop her to 9 with a turn-5 attack from the reliable Creeper, then replace my hapless Messenger with a Highborn Ghoul. After counterattacking in the air for 2, Jimi then looks to O-Ring the evasive Highborn Ghoul, but this time I’ve the mana open for an Altar’s Reap in response to cash it in for two new cards. Back to me, I then Despise Jimi’s hand, sending a Porcelain Legionnaire off to the graveyard. Knowing I’ve little to worry about from removal (she’s holding none), I then tap out to play a Lashwrithe. Next comes the gamble- I pay 4 life to equip it to the Creeper, letting it now swing in for 7. Defenseless, Jimi’s on death’s door. She plays a Tandem Lookout, then passes.
Now turn 7, I play another Swamp to make my Creeper +6/+6 thanks to the Lashwrithe, sending it in on the attack. Jimi chumps with her Smuggler to stay afloat, so I summon a Gloom Surgeon to add some numbers to my board presence. Her next turn is a blank, and her last two creatures perish blocking both of my attackers. The Surgeon sees off a Doom Blade and Highborn Ghoul as part of it’s damage-prevention scheme, but the game is done. Drawing nothing, Jimi scoops on turn 8.
Jimi leads off with a Wingcrafter on the opening turn, while I’m right behind her with a Diregraf Ghoul. Next turn she pays 2 life to cheat out a Porcelain Legionnaire, as her only drops thus far have been Islands. She soulbonds it to her Wingcrafter, then turns the flier sideways for a first nick of damage. I play a Crypt Creeper and pass. Next turn Jimi’s aerial threat kicks into gear as she attacks for 4 more with the Wingcrafter and flying Legionnaire, putting me at 15. She then plays a Blade Splicer and passes. Over to me, I play a Swamp and end my turn.
Now turn 4, Jimi keeps the pressure on with a Tandem Lookout, soulbonding it to the 3/3 Golem token the Splicer brought with it. She attacks with the Golem alongside the aerial duo for 7. I block the Golem with my Creeper to prevent Jimi from getting a free card, then offer it up to an Altar’s Reap. The bodies in the sky connect, however, and I’m left at 11. Playing my fourth land, I summon a Lashwrithe.
It doesn’t last a turn. Jimi banishes it to the netherworld with an Oblivion Ring, then swings in again for 7. This time all three connect, and she gets her free card off the Golem. For my part, I’m down to 4 life and the game is looking unwinnable. I play a Ghoulraiser, returning the Creeper to hand.
During Jimi’s turn-6 upkeep I then pick off her Wingcrafter with a Go for the Throat, but we both know it’s a token gesture. She sends my Ghoulraiser off to join the Lashwrithe with a Fiend Hunter, and swings for the win.
On the play, I have a solid start- an opening-turn Diregraf Ghoul. Next turn I swing in for 2 to get things going in the right direction. Jimi’s second-turn play is a Nearheath Pilgrim.
Now turn 3, I attack for another 2 with the Ghoul before summoning Geralf’s Messenger to leave Jimi at 14. Back to her, Jimi plays a Glacial Fortress, then a Tandem Lookout. Soulbonded to the Pilgrim, Jimi then attacks with the latter, going up 2 life and netting a free card out of the deal. Next turn I hold the Ghoul back as a defensive deterrent, sending in the Messenger instead. Back to Jimi, she summons the Blade Splicer (with Golem sidekick) and ends her turn.
The Golem eats a Doom Blade on turn 5, freeing up some offensive space to send the Messenger back through. Jimi instead responds with a Righteous Blow to deliver its first death. Thanks to undying, it comes back with a +1/+1 counter on it and Jimi loses another 2 life, ending at 11. Sadly for her, Jimi’s next turn is a blank. Back to me, I attack in again with the newly-buffed Messenger for 4. Biting the bullet, Jimi trades it out for her Pilgrim and Lookout, hoping to restore the board to a more even footing (and gain 4 life in the process thanks to their lifelink). Though she risks a blowout if I’m holding removal, she catches a break here as I’ve none. Instead, I simply wait for the Messenger to hit the graveyard, return it with the Ghoulraiser (since it’s the only Zombie in my graveyard), then recast it. When the dust clears, Jimi’s down to 13 life. She plays a Plains on turn 6, but has nothing else to offer.
Now turn 7, I fire in with the Ghoul, Ghoulraiser, and Messenger for 7. Jimi uses Divine Deflection to redirect 4 damage back onto the Ghoulraiser, then picks off the Diregraf Ghoul with a Righteous Blow. She still takes 1 damage, however, going down to 12. I then Despise her hand, fiding only a Tandem Lookout there flanked by a trio of lands. Back to Jimi, she plays a Nearheath Pilgrim and soulbonds it to her Blade Splicer. She attacks for 1 with the Splicer, putting me down to 17 and her up to 13. Next turn its my turn for a blank, though I do manage a Swamp, while Jimi summons a Porcelain Legionnaire.
Things take a dramatic turn on turn 9 when I summon a Lashwrithe, having seven Swamps in play. Back to Jimi, she plays a Wingcrafter, soulbonding it to her Legionnaire. This lets the Legionnaire fly over for 3 more damage, and I’m left with 14 life. Next turn I attack with the Lashwrithe’s Germ token, having opted against fastening it to my Messenger last turn and hammering in a turn early out of a momentary episode of caution. Jimi chumps with her lifelinking Splicer, which is obliterated in the process.
Jimi hyperextends herself on turn 10, however, when she commits her Legionnaire and Wingcrafter to a 4-point attack, with only the Pilgrim left behind on chumping detail. At the end of her turn, I simply kill it with Go for the Throat, then offer up my Messenger to an Altar’s Reap for a couple more cards. It returns to the field of play, nicking Jimi for another 2 life. Defenseless and facing lethal after I play another Swamp, Jimi concedes.
Thoughts & Analysis
What a difference an abundance of quality removal can make! Deeply enmeshed in the preconstructed side of things, it was eye-opening to ‘see how the other half lives’ in constructed play. Precon removal suites tend to either be paltry or overly-complicated and inconsistent, but the package offered here was perfect for the job.
On the whole, this deck works quite well for its objective. Although there aren’t quite as many early options available here as there were with the Magic 2012 mono-Black Event Deck Vampire Onslaught, you’re also not at the mercy of the tides to anywhere near the same degree. By throttling back on the creature count a bit, Death’s Encroach seemed to hit the right balance between offensive threats that necessitate a response from your opponent, and solutions to any threats of their own your opponents might play.
Easily the all-star of the deck is Geralf’s Messenger, which should surprise very few. Indeed, the very first cut to make here would likely be swapping out the misplaced Gloom Surgeon for another Messenger- and that’s only the beginning. Between creature combat and the Altar’s Reaps, there’s more than enough ways to abuse its undying. Still, we can only rate it on what it has, not what it could be. We’ll raise few eyebrows by mentioning that the Gravecrawler is also terrific here. The Surgeon is an odd inclusion, and a clue as to the thought process that decides which rares go into a deck and why. Rotational rares like the Lashwrithe are fine in multiple, but this season’s crop, it seems, might incur too much price depression if doubled up.
Like its cover star, the deck is a fairly lean construction without as lot of excess fat stashed about. The deck is fairly tightly-focused for a preconstructed deck, as witnessed by the number of 3- and 4-ofs, and it comes through in the output. I was seldom at a loss for something to do, and frequently had the comfort of removal in hand. Indeed, so consistent was the deck that I even started wondering if it would be worth it to Go for the Throat my own Messenger in case Jimi attempted to Oblivion Ring it (answer: it depends).
If there’s a vulnerability to the deck, its in the power drop-off it’s going to suffer when pitted against another Black-based deck. In such a match-up both Doom Blades are dead draws altogether, and the playset of Highborn Ghouls become some very poor draws.
Like the other Event Decks, Death’s Encroach is a little over-billed, though like some of the better ones in the release line it certainly gives you a decent nucleus for a competitive deck. Does that make it worth buying? Your mileage may vary, but a quick look at Star City Games suggests that this might not be quite a slam-dunk at MSRP a couple others have been in the past (Gravecrawler and Messenger are $5, the Reaper is $3, and it’s rapidly downhill from there). The “value chatter” that seems to surround these decks with each release has been notably muted this time around. That said, if you’re looking for a solid Zombie deck that’s a fair value and playable right out of the box, you could certainly do much worse.
Hits: Superb removal package between the kill spells and Skinrenders; very solid mana curve that facilitates aggressive play
Misses: Loses some impact when facing fellow Black decks; with little synergy between cards, can feel a bit pedestrian outwith fun beaters like the Messenger and Gravecrawler; some rare space wasted (see: Gloom Surgeon)
OVERALL SCORE: 4.25/5.00